A eulogy for our lost years of dance

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Dancing is still banned in BC, and it sucks

Photo by Kaya Martin.

Try to think back to the last time you were dancing in a room full of people. Picture the low lights, the flailing limbs that brush against yours, the hot stickiness in the air. You bounce intrinsically to the beat, unsure of where the night may take you. Do you remember that feeling?

If you have been following the rules, the chances are that it was some time before coronavirus restrictions went into full effect on March 30 2020 that you’ve felt like that. At the time of this article’s publication, British Columbians will have gone 669 days without dance. Not the organized, dance-class type, which has been permitted on and off as long as it is considered “low-impact,” but the messy type. The type that leaves you covered in other people’s sweat and overpriced gin soda. 

As your diligent journalist and party girl, I keep wondering: what is this loss of dance doing to us? Because it feels pretty bad. Not to be dramatic, but it kind of feels like my soul is withering up like a dried apricot.

At this point, I shouldn’t have to mention that COVID-19 restrictions are important to help stop the spread of the virus. The sloppy style of dance that I’m yearning for is pretty much super-spreader behaviour. Shuttering nightclubs and outlawing dancing at indoor events could be considered a reasonable reaction in the face of contagion. 

But British Columbians have sat back and watched while other provinces, such as Quebec and Ontario, have periodically relaxed their rules and allowed for a few lucky moments of partying. Our Footloose-esque dance ban has run straight through since COVID began, with no breaks and no real end in sight. Secret, unsanctioned, pro-dancing events (raves) are still around, for those who know where to find them, but the guilt and fear of the pandemic lurks in the background — it’s hard to forget.

When I’ve complained about missing dance to some, especially ‘adults,’ my disdain has been met with eye rolls. With all of the other, more serious things we are losing as a result of the pandemic, it can be easy to dismiss dance as a frivolity. I feel like this sentiment is shared by those calling the shots on the restrictions, who tend to be past their prime partying years (Dr. Bonnie Henry, girl, if ever I catch you on the dancefloor, drinks on me). 

Side note: I truly believe everyone at every age should party. I would never party shame. It’s just that some people, especially those in their teens and twenties, tend to do it more.

I spoke with Dr. Kimerer LaMothe, former Harvard professor and author of Why We Dance: A Philosophy of Bodily Becoming, about the importance of dancing together.  LaMothe tells me that dancing is an innate human reaction.

“When we hear a beat, or some kind of rhythm, we cannot not respond. Our heart rates, breathing rates, and brain waves synchronize to the rhythms around us,” said LaMothe. 

Maybe we aren’t exactly born knowing how to drop it low to that one Flo Rida song, but we can pick it up pretty quickly. According to Dr. LaMothe, replicating the movement we see in others and playing with our own movement are unique capacities of human dance.

She says that dancing together, “moving to the same beat or breath,”  serves two contradictory functions within us. A dancer in a crowd feels a certain kind of camaraderie with those around them.

“They perceive themselves as one among many — as a part of something larger than themselves. People are together — in this room, in this place, in this time. They share in the common reality of the dance,” said LaMothe.

I am reminded of times at concerts when the audience became so tightly pressed together that there was no longer autonomy. Each person contributed to the motion of one big, amorphous unit, a cloud of bodies.

 “In this experience of being moved, an individual has a heightened sense of their own self as an individual — they may feel themselves as powerful, as flooded with whatever emotions they are holding, as brimming with hope and love, as released into joy,” said LaMothe.

When I speak with those I used to spend my chaotic nights out with, now lounging at some civil sit-down spot with plexiglass dividers, our lamentations sound the same. We miss the spontaneity, the adrenaline, the aching legs the next morning. Evenings spent on the pursuit of pleasure alone. Bumping into an old friend or a new lover is hard with a two metre gap. 

There is something special that gets unlocked when strangers dance. Maybe it’s a result of the collective vulnerability that comes with shimmying in ways that would look stupid if we were alone, but look beautiful because we are together. It creates a kinetic energy that carries us through the night, despite our teetering, impractical heels. We’ve lost that, and it’s not nothing. 

I asked LaMothe if we’ll be bad dancers when this is all over, if we’ll forget the moves we used to know so well.

“Dancing itself can be a vital resource in metabolizing the very kinds of hardship that we experience in its absence,” she said, “We won’t forget… but we do want to make sure to remember.”